What’s the most dramatic career shift a person could make? Used car salesman to lie-detector technician? Special Forces tactician to kindergarten teacher? Try this one on for size: probation officer supervisor to full-time eBay seller.
That was the path for Kristin Bowen, who had a 17-year career in the New Jersey state probation office. She issued warrants to parents who wouldn’t pay child support. Angry spouses screamed obscenities at her over the phone.
“Probation is not the most uplifting of jobs,” said Bowen. “There’s never a happy moment.” The job takes considerable patience and the thickest skin imaginable. Selling on eBay, on the other hand, requires a totally different kind of discipline.
"Deep down, I just knew the probation career wasn’t the best use of my talents, and there was no other rung for me to climb,” said Bowen.
Moving to Full-Time eBay Seller
Transitioning to an eBay career wouldn’t be easy, however. Her husband was apprehensive about the move, and they were supporting their young child. Bowen was faced with giving up a generous salary and pension benefits plus paid days off and a great health care plan. “We had it all with that job,” said Bowen.
She was smart about the move, however. By the time she left her probation job, her eBay income was pushing seven figures annually. “I knew before I left that I’d have to get the eBay business going at a certain level of income and profit,” said Bowen. “The great thing about the move to eBay is that I’m now brightening peoples’ lives instead of refereeing misery.”
Product Mix, Pricing and Sourcing
You could say that Bowen’s products fit into a fairly tightly defined category. She calls it “high-quality cuteness.” She features collectibles, branded lines like Patience Brewster ornaments, and special occasion children's clothing.
In the current economic climate, many sellers have a sense that cheaper pricing is better. "There's a race to the bottom on pricing," said Bowen. "But that's often not the best strategy on eBay. Not every buyer is looking for cheap, and most sellers can't run a viable business by cutting prices."
Most of Bowen's listings target markets where special events and high-value buys are the norm. “If you're buying Mom a nativity Christmas gift, you don’t necessarily care if it’s $95 as opposed to $100,” she said. “You just need to find the right item. The same psychology applies if you’re bringing your baby home from the hospital in its first outfit.”
Celebrity trends also drive Bowen’s business. Early on, she noticed the Aden + Anais swaddling blanket that Prince George and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, brought their first baby home in and discovered a reliable source. When North West, the Kanye West and Kim Kardashian baby, came home in a particular outfit, Bowen was on top of the trend early. “I’m one of the few sellers who could source the clothing and offer it on the secondary market,” she said.
Bowen goes to trade shows and leverages a tight group of manufacturer’s reps to source her products. “Relationships are my strongest asset,” she explained. “I have reps that check in with me on new ideas all the time – even when they’re on vacation. We just have those kinds of personal, caring relationships where we look out for each others’ interests.”
Christmas Over in October
While sales have been solid all year, sometimes seasonal buys are less than optimal. The Kristin's Great Finds eBay Store was stocked with all kinds of great Christmas goods during August, September and October, but the inventory sold out at a very rapid pace.
"We had tons of Christmas ornaments, table settings, special napkin rings, pajamas, angel tree toppers, tree skirts, plates, placemats and table runners, but they were gone so early," exclaimed Bowen. She does have more tree skirts on order, however. Those should be back in stock soon.
Her tree skirt sourcing was, in fact, the result of her own shopping needs. She often discovers broader needs by examining her own shopping habits. "There was just no one else in the eBay market selling quality tree skirts," she said.
All in all it's been an awesome year for Bowen. She migrated from an exhausting, emotionally painful probation officer supervisor job to an uplifting seller experience on eBay. And, her recent quarterly sales are up 30 percent! Her business is growing, her family is well supported, she's prospering, and she's having the time of her life.